As the English proverb says, “No hoof, no horse”. It is of vital importance that we look after our horse’s feet. Ideally you should clean your horse’s feet out before every ride to check that there are no stones or foreign objects in the hoof before you get on and add your weight to his load.
Every night when your horse comes in it is a good idea to clean out his feet to check for foreign objects stuck in his frog, loose shoes or any injuries he may have gotten while in his paddock.
When you clean out his feet make sure to gently clear out the debris from the cleft of the frog and remove all dirt from the sole. It is useful to have the correct hoof care products like a hoof pick to brush off any remaining dirt from the foot so you can observe the whole foot. Take a bit of time while cleaning out his feet to get accustomed to what is normal with your horse. Take note of the temperature – they will feel slightly warm. Check his digital pulse with two fingers just behind the pastern. You are not looking for a pulse rate, but rather the strength of the pulse in normal conditions. The frog should be the consistency of an eraser. Don’t be alarmed if the frog appears to be pealing – this is normal and horses tend to shed their frog twice a year, sometimes more.
Important things to look out for are:
Thrush – this bacterial condition is recognisable by a foul smell and black discharge in the cleft of the frog. Later stages can cause the frog to become cheesy and sponge like. It is usually from standing for long periods in wet, muddy conditions. Poor stable management can also result in this condition. In the early stages it is easily treated by over the counter remedies. If left untreated it can cause lameness and significant hoof damage.
Puncture wounds – if your horse has stood on a nail or sharp object the likelihood of finding the hole is minimal and it could result in an abscess. If the object is still in the foot, it is advised to not remove the object and to stable the horse and protect the foot until a vet can come. X-rays can determine how deep the object has gone and the vet can safely remove the offending object and treat the foot.
Abscess – if the digital pulse is stronger than normal it is possible that your horse has an abscess from a puncture wound, bruised sole or an incorrectly placed nail during shoeing. An increased pulse will result from an increase in blood flow to the affected area. Your horse will be slightly lame but an abscess can be excruciatingly painful. If the digital pulse is strong in both front legs and your horse seems to be putting more weight on his hind legs and seems to be “walking on eggs” it is highly likely that he has laminitis. Call your vet immediately! Laminitis is an inflammatory condition that if left untreated can cause a huge amount of damage and if left long enough can be fatal.
Cracks – some cracks are superficial while others are caused from weakening hooves. Call your farrier and describe the crack to him so he can assess whether he needs to come out immediately or not. Cracks left untreated can cause seedy toe which could be the start of separation.
Before and after you ride, check your horse’s shoes – if he is shod. Look for loose or shifted shoes. These can be dangerous while riding as he can tread on the loose shoe and trip himself up and cause a fall. Raised clinches are a sign that the shoe is starting to loosen and your farrier will probably be due. Clinches are the end of the nail that has been bent flush with the hoof wall to secure the nail. When raised the loosened clinch can cause damage if one leg brushes against the other.
Schedule your farrier every 6 – 8 weeks depending on your horse’s hoof growth. It is important to keep an eye on your horse’s shoes so you can alert your farrier if the shoe has shifted or come off. Make sure you farrier is reputable and has the correct farrier equipment to deal with any hoof issues.
Learn to remove a shoe to prevent injury and further damage to the hoof wall if the shoe is ripped off. If you are unsure how to do it ask your farrier to show you how to safely remove the shoe.
Some horses have naturally strong hooves while others are weaker. Fine tune his diet by checking with your vet on whether his feed is right for his nutritional needs. There are hoof supplements like Biotin, on the market that can encourage healthy hoof growth. Feed them for about 6 months to a year to be able to see a marked difference as this is how long it takes for new hoof growth. Regular exercise on good work surfaces at the walk and trot helps to increase blood circulation in your horse’s feet promoting hoof growth.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the battle was lost;
For the failure of battle, the kingdom was lost –
All for the want of a horse-shoe nail……